By Joanna Foote
We often see prayer as a way to go to God with our uncertainty and surrender our concerns and the problems of the world at his feet. But what if prayer is also a way to enter into the overwhelming reality that is our world? Perhaps, when we pray, we are stepping deeper into the world with God’s eyes and God’s heart.
I have found myself on my knees quite a bit recently - in part for clarity in my leadership, in part for more certainty as my future creeps closer. Mostly because I have spent six months of the last year walking alongside people in poverty as I worked in migrant shelters - first with deported migrants on the US/Mexico border and later with Central Americans in southern Mexico. So yes, I have plenty of concerns to surrender to God, but also many invitations to experience deeper compassion.
We could just pray for our own issues and our personal concerns and the problems our close friends present to us. Prayer can also be an extension of the work that we do and the life that we live - an effort to bring God in to our vocation and calling. And those prayers are important. But such attitudes make prayer a one-way street in which we give up our concerns to God and continue on with our work. From that perspective, prayer is a self-help tool to bring us joy and peace.
I’m discovering another side of prayer. Prayer is not just bringing God into my life. Instead, it is entering more deeply into God’s heart for the world.
Entering into God’s heart means slowly facing the uncertain and overwhelming reality of the world, which we can easily ignore if we just focus on our little corner. Sometimes when I pray, I picture myself beside Jesus, looking out at the world and seeing what he sees. I see migrants jumping freight trains. I see people dying in the desert. I see violence and insecurity. I see broken families and loneliness.
I cannot resolve all of these problems-or even some of them. But when I sit with Jesus and look at the world, I start to understand his love for people. I start to see how intense the suffering is. I appreciate the gravity of God’s promises and the necessity of hope in them. Perhaps this form of prayer motivates us into action or invites us to support a new part of God’s creation or new group of God’s people. Or perhaps this prayer simply invites us to more prayer where we can humbly admire the work that God is doing and, through our confidence in God’s love, pray for an end to injustice.
So we pray. Not just to resolve our own insecurities and powerlessness, or to address a specific cause. We pray because when we do, God just might share his vision for the world.
Joanna Foote is learning to see the face of Jesus in the stranger as she volunteers through service and research with immigrant communities. She will graduate next year from Georgetown University with a degree in international culture and politics focusing on migration.